Chelsea Flower Show hasn’t lost its bloom

BRONZE: Former CAFRE student Megan Ingram, who in 2018 won a bronze medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for creating a Floral Throne inspired by Queen Victoria.

FOR the first time since World War Two, the UK’s annual and highly prestigious celebration of

all things floral – the Chelsea Flower Show – has had to be cancelled.

MEDAL: Siobhan Mone (nee Hughes) who was the first CAFRE student to pick up at medal at the Chelsea Flower Show when she won a bronze for Floral Chandelier creation.

However, the show will indeed go on and so, also for the first time ever, it is taking place harnessing the latest in digital technology all this week.

Virtual tours of the stunning displays that yearly showcase the finest in floral creativity, webcasts featuring expert advice and even a daily slot for tutoring school age gardeners have replaced the disappointment of not being able to be there in person this year.

Northern Ireland has made a very positive impact on the London event for a long time. And a major part of this contribution is because each year for the past decade floristry students and graduates from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) have won their place to test their talents against the finest florists in the UK at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) premier event. Impressively, these competitors have accumulated a brilliant haul of 23 medals in the process.

Lori Hartman, Manager of Fur-ther Education Floristry Courses at the college’s Greenmount campus in Antrim, said: “At CAFRE we really encourage our students to get involved in competitions. The competitive edge adds a lot to our students’ development because they are often required to work within a tight timeframe and specification.

“These are skills that pro-fessional florists need to produce designs for their customers. Competitions are also wonderful networking opportunities to meet others in their industry.”

The floristry team at CAFRE has honed its expertise over the past 20 years and has developed professional florists through a comprehensive programme of technical skills and a dedicated focus on creativity.

It has been these methods that have enabled the college’s floristry students to enter the Florist of the Year or Young Florist of the Year at Chelsea. Competitors are given a theme to follow with design parameters and this has resulted in local students producing intricate de-

signs such as a floral hat or crown and even a full size throne. The delicate work is further complicated by first designing their entries at home then having to transport their sundry supplies and floral materials all the way to London for the competition.

CAFRE Floristry lecturer Anne-

marie Grant said: “The app-lication process to compete the RHS Chelsea Flower Show starts in the autumn the year before. Applicants must choose a theme and submit a narrative to the selection panel explaining their idea. That has to be matched with detailed sketches, a list of materials and the specific techniques they plan to use to create their design.

“We really encourage students to apply because it offers a different level of experience for them. They really have to have their own clear ideas and showcase their understanding of the mechanics of floristry to bring their ideas to life.”

Whilst prospective entrants from CAFRE will unfortunately miss out showcasing their floral skills at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, the college remains incredibly proud of their past successes and look forward to many more in the future.

Ten years ago, Nigel Close of Momento Floral Design in Belfast was the first CAFRE graduate to win a place at the Chelsea Flower Show finals, where he had to create a floral hat. The following year, 2011, Ashleen McEvoy from Newry also made it to the prestigious London showcase by designing a Floral Jockey Silk.

However, in 2012 it was Siobhan Mone who became the first CAFRE graduate to win a medal at the show and took a bronze for her Floral Chandelier creation. In 2013, Siobhan followed her success up with a silver medal with her piece ‘A Never Ending Circle’.

Success continued in 2014 when Shannon Ormandy and Emma Sinnamon made the show with their work on the theme of Floral Dresses. Emma won a bronze for her efforts that year and repeated the feat in 2015 for her Floral Fantasy Tree. Then in 2016, Shannon Ormandy was part of a trio of CAFRE graduates with Heather Hume and Natalie Straney, who all took bronze medals for their Carnival Headdresses.

Places in the final were achieved in 2017 by Clare McAuley and Eilis Quinn, who made spectacular Floral Kites for the Young Florist of the Year competition.

In 2018 Megan Ingram and Clare McAuley achieved a place in the final, each making a Floral Throne inspired by Queen Victoria, along with fellow student Ann Kirkwood,

with Megan and Ann delighted to achieve bronze medals for their designs.

Finally, 2019 was a fabulous year for CAFRE at the competition. Four competitors linked to the college made the Chelsea Flower Show. And Shannon Ormandy competed for the fourth time in the Chelsea Young Florist competition. The florists did a tremendous job, with Megan Ingram winning a bronze medal for the second time, Victoria Brennan achieving a silver gilt and Ann Kirkwood adding a silver gilt medal to her bronze from the previous year.

CAFRE is very proud of all the students and graduates’ achievements at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with an amazing accumulation of 13 medals overall – 10 medals for Chelsea Young florist and three for Chelsea florist of the year competitions.

Lori Hartman added: “While none of our students will be competing this year, CAFRE staff and students can look forward to future successes and carrying on the spirit of competition in years to come. In the meantime, stay at home, stay safe and stay well. And join us in clapping for the achievements of our young people who are our heroes in the floristry world.”

FINALS: Nigel Close, who was the first CAFRE Floristry graduate to make the finals of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2010.

If you would like to explore the possibilities of a career in professional floristry, visit for information on our Level 2 Technical Certificate in Floristry and Level 3 Advanced Technical Diploma in Floristry.


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